How I find space in the most stressful of days

There are always those days where it feels like we don’t stop. Like the demands are continuous and we don’t have time to catch our breath. It might be a pressurised day at work, or a day at home with children on your own. The nature of the stressor doesn’t matter. It’s the relentless nature of it that affects our wellbeing. Shamash Alidina uses a good analogy of the water cup. If you had to hold it for one minute that would be no problem. Hold it for an hour and your arm would ache. Hold it for 24 hours and your arm would be in significant pain. It’s the duration of the pressure that causes the problem.

 

“If the pressure is too high for you and lasts for long periods of time, it can cause chronic stress, and that’s where the danger lies.” Shamash Alidina in ‘The mindful way through stress’

 

It’s not always possible to change our lifestyle, at least in the short term, but we can draw upon some small changes to alter our perception of the demands placed upon us. To create more space for us to breathe, to think and to rest. What I’m going to describe now is how you can feel the pauses in your day to break-up what seems like a continuous barrage of stimulus and demands.

 

Let’s explore this together with a short exercise using our breath as an example. We often think of our breath as being continuous. It’s the one activity that links our lifetime from birth to death. We are wholly dependent on our breath continuing in order to survive, and yet the breath is also punctuated with short pauses all the time.

 

Feel the pause exercise

 

  1. Close your eyes
  2. Draw your attention down into the body and become aware of your breath
  3. Allow yourself to observe the natural rhythm of the breath
  4. When you’re ready, see if you can observe the subtle pause between the out breath and the in breath of the next breath
  5. Keep this going for a few breaths until you can consistently feel the pause
  6. See if you can notice the stillness and lack of tension in the body in this pause
  7. Now see if you can observe the even more subtle pause between the in breath and the out breath
  8. Again, see if you can notice the stillness present in this pause
  9. When you’re ready, bring this meditation to a close and allow yourself to notice how you feel as a result

 

In the same way as the breath, there are often small pauses within the day that we don’t notice. Bringing mindful attention to these pauses can help us to metaphorically put down the water cup for a while so we can rest, before starting again. Drawing attention to these pauses can be difficult at first until we get the hang of it so it can help to start with a specific intention. Perhaps if you have a lot of driving to do you can use every red light to take a deep breath in and out. Imagine coming away from every red light feeling more positive and rested, rather than more stressed and aggravated! If you’re spending the day at home with children, perhaps use a task like boiling the kettle to remind you to take a deep breath in and out. Just feeling a moment of stillness. Anticipating the positive experience of a warming cup of tea. Or if you’re in the office, you could decide to breathe deeply and mindfully while drying your hands at the hand drier. Think you don’t have time to dry your hands at the hand drier? Try counting. It’s normally less than 20 seconds. Imagine using those 20 seconds to rest, clear your mind and appreciate the warm air on your hands rather than rushing out of the toilet with half dried, damp hands.

 

Once you start to notice the pauses you’ll find yourself noticing more and more pauses and embracing the chance to rest, albeit briefly, before continuing with your day. Take the opportunity to nourish and shine affectionate attention on your body and mind, and everyday demands will start to feel less overwhelming.

 

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PIN how I find space in the most stressful days

Feel Good Mamas walking sessions

I’ve come to notice that when I’m calm, balanced and feeling good mentally, the rest of the family seems to be in a good place too. Equally, if I’m down, or out of sorts, that’s generally when everyone else tends to get grumpy and difficult. Mother’s mental health matters, both for them and the whole family. Yet many women just keep on going with little help and support. The NHS suggests that 1 in 3 new mothers suffers from post-natal depression and over half don’t seek any help. Having been in that statistic myself, I can tell you that it’s hard. Really hard. In an age when few people live surrounded by extended family and close friends tend to be caught up with their own children, finding time and space to rest, rejuvenate and talk through your feelings can be difficult.

 

Feel Good Mamas came about after going on some walks with friends and discovering the value of walking side by side in nature. No agenda and few distractions. Just the joy of being outside and talking. Spending time in nature is proven to reduce the symptoms of depression and being able to talk with someone who understands is extremely helpful. I wanted to help Mum’s carve out some space to just enjoy being outside, chatting with others who understand. And throw in a little mindful support too.

 

I’m not going to set a rigid structure for the sessions, but it’s likely to flow something like this.

 

  • Meet at the specified location
  • Short meditation (c. 5 minutes) to help us get into the present moment
  • Circular walk and chat (around an hour)

 

These sessions are a chance for Mums to rest and chat without having to edit their conversation or be distracted, so this isn’t a session for children to attend (aside from tiny babies in slings). It doesn’t matter what age your children are; 6 months or 18 years. This is a chance for Mum’s to support each other in a fun, nurturing environment.

 

Dates, times and locations will be advertised on my facebook page, but if you have any questions, do get in touch via my contact page. I’d love for you to join us!

 

 

5 useful things to do while you’re waiting for your child to fall asleep

My eldest daughter has always been very sensitive and high needs. She still likes to have our loving presence while she’s going to sleep and we’re pretty happy to go along with that. That doesn’t mean that we’re not sometimes silently willing her to ‘go the f@ck to sleep’ while we’re sat on the floor thinking of the many things we have to do that evening! It’s frustrating, and dare I say it boring sometimes to be sat on the floor. That said, we know that she’s just a more balanced and easy to be around child when her cup is full and she feels loved.

 

PIN 5 useful things to do while your child is falling asleep

 

Inevitably, when we’re frustrated and impatient, our children pick up on that and are less likely to go to sleep. With that in mind, I have some suggestions for how you can relax into the process and create a greater sense of calm for you and them to hopefully make bedtime more enjoyable for everyone. Here are 5 useful things you can do while you’re waiting for your child to go to sleep.

 

Try a restorative yoga pose

It’s obviously not practical to be running through a series of yoga poses while your child is trying to fall asleep but you can set yourself up for a restful 15 minutes in a restorative yoga pose. I first came across restorative yoga from my yoga teacher Lara at All Woman and it’s been linked with a wealth of health benefits. I’m personally favouring a heart opening pose at the moment because I have tight muscles across my chest but there are lots more options. You can have a look here.

 

Do a body scan

Pains, aches and weird sensations are our body’s way of telling us that something isn’t right and maybe we need to do something differently. Perhaps visit the GP, perhaps stretch or do exercise or perhaps do some self-care (a bath, massage, treatment etc). Often in the fullness of the day we can become disconnected from our body and ignore or sweep under the carpet these bodily sensations resulting in long term health complications. Bedtime can be a great opportunity to lavish some mindful attention on the body. Slowly passing our mindful gaze over our whole self from our toes to our heads. Noticing how the body feels and re-connecting our mind and body so we can take better care of ourselves.

 

Bring mindful attention to the breath

Children have great empathy and will follow our lead in terms of emotional state. If you can calm your breath then you can help them to calm their breath and emotional state too. Try the 5-7-8 technique.

Breathe in for 5 seconds.

Hold for 7 seconds.

Breathe out slowly for 8 seconds.

This technique calms the nervous system and instils a sense of calm. Useful to quell any frustration you may be feeling and useful to help them fall asleep as well.


 
Pelvic floor exercises

Ladies, we never do this as frequently as we should. If you can create a nightly habit of doing your pelvic floor exercises at bedtime then that’s one set a day done.

 

Listen to a podcast or audio book

If all else fails, get yourself some discrete earphones and listen to something enjoyable. My husband has this small device for one ear that links via Bluetooth, which means there are no visible wires or attached devices for your child to covet and distract them from falling asleep. There’s a similar one here.

 

So, there you have it. 5 useful things to do while you’re laid on the bedroom floor. Sweet dreams!

 

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How to stay calm when you’re angry with your child

This week saw the mama bear in me roar when my daughter was hurt. The inability to soothe her pain in that moment and her sibling’s part in the matter made me feel extremely angry. I wanted to shout and reprimand and unleash my anger but I managed to catch myself just in time. Whilst my girls are small, their mindfulness practice is my mindfulness practice. What I model, they learn. So once I noticed the anger rising, I managed to pause. Just long enough to stop my instinctive response and think about what to do next.

 

There are many models of mindful tactics to use when working through difficult emotions and what they all aim to do is insert a pause between you feeling an emotion and then reacting. Often, this reaction happens so quickly that it feels like it becomes one with the emotion. We’ve acted on autopilot. And often what we autopilot is our learned behaviour from when we were children. This may be fine, or it may not be in line with how you intend to parent. Inserting a pause gives us just enough time to feel our emotion, appraise the situation and decide how to act next in a constructive way.

 

I use the CALM model because I find it easy to remember and just repeating the word sets a good intention for me in terms of how I want to respond to my anger. So here is how you can stay CALM when your angry buttons are pressed.

 

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You can download a printable here how-to-stay-calm-when-youre-angry-printable

 

C – Catch your breath

 

Once you’ve recognised anger, the first thing to do is just focus on the breath momentarily. Give yourself some space to step away from any immediate reactions. If you can make the out breath longer than the in breath, this will also calm the nervous system and reduce the ‘flight or fight’ response you may be having.

It can be really helpful to explain what you’re doing as well if you’re with a small child. It can be something simple like “I’m feeling angry right now so I’m going to pause while I think about what to do next.”

 

A – Allow

 

Allow yourself to feel the emotion you’re having. We’re not trying to hide from the emotion or make it go away. Instead we’re trying to relate to it in a different way. For the moment, all you need to do is feel the emotion in your body. Where do you feel it? A tightness in your chest perhaps? Clenched hands? No need to try to change any of this, just allow it to be as it is. If it does change though, that’s ok too.

 

L – Listen

 

Listen to your thoughts with a sense of curiosity. Thoughts are not always accurate or true and you don’t have to act on them. Allow yourself to consider other options as well. In my case, I had thoughts such as ‘why is she always being mean to her sister? What is wrong with her?’ When I think about it a calmer state of mind I know that a lot of the time she’s actually really lovely to her sister. It’s also age appropriate to not know how to deal with big emotions in a reasonable way so there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with her. Reviewing our thoughts in this way gives us a better preparation for how we act next.

 

M – Move into action

 

We’ve spent the last 30-60 seconds inserting a pause so we don’t act automatically (this will get quicker with practice) and the next step is to proceed with intention. Only you will know how you hope to parent in this situation, but allow yourself to be guided by your greater intention (I hope to write a blog post about setting a parenting intention so I’ll come back and insert a link when I do). If you have familiar situations arising though, it may be worth preparing some phrases in advance so you can draw on them quickly when you are angry. For instance “I won’t let you hit your sister. I’m going to hold you while the angry feelings pass.”

 

It’s important to recognise that this new approach won’t work immediately. It will take some time to undo your unconscious habits and create new neural pathways through repeated practice. There are 4 stages of re-learning that you will likely go through.

 

  1. You’re caught in the auto-pilot response without even realising it. It’s only afterwards that you consider how you would have liked to respond differently.
  2. You feel angry and are aware of your automatic reaction happening but feel unable to stop it. This is really tough and you may feel like giving up at this stage. Keep going though because being able to observe your reaction is evidence that you’re already being more mindful. It will get better.
  3. You feel angry but you’re able to pause, avert the automatic reaction and take a different course. It may still feel difficult but you should feel good about responding with intention.
  4. You’re unlikely to feel angry about the behaviour and move easily into a calm, intentional response.

 

There will still likely be lots of times when you yell or shout or say things you wish you didn’t. Especially in the beginning. We’re only human after all. In these instances, we can still model a mindful and compassionate way to deal with mistakes that our children can learn from.

 

  1. Firstly, extend yourself some compassion and kindness. Your children love you. You are a good parent (otherwise you wouldn’t be reading about how to stay calm when you’re angry). We all make mistakes and that doesn’t make us bad people. If you’re feeling really low, like “I’m a terrible mother/father” then you may want to try a loving-kindness meditation.
  2. Explain the emotions you were feeling in language they can understand. This helps build emotional literacy so they can recognise their own emotions and have empathy for these emotions in others. For example “I felt really angry when you hit your sister. My heart was thumping and my body felt stiff. I felt like I wanted to shout.” Try to keep the language focused on you so they understand that your reaction was based on your emotions, not their actions. This teaches children that we have the resources to respond to our emotions in the manner we choose.
  3. Apologize in a positive way for your reaction. Humbleness is not a weakness and teaching children how to repair a mistake is a positive life skill. It might go something like “I’m sorry I shouted at you. I know that might have been scary. I’m learning how to respond more calmly when I’m angry but it may take a little time.” I know that when I’ve offered an apology to my daughter, she’s always accepted it with great grace and kindness. In fact, in the way I wish I responded to apologies as I’ve often been a bit begrudging in the past. Especially when I’ve been holding on to some hurt.

 

“Children make a lot of mistakes so these types of demonstrations are invaluable. Having an inner template of how to make amends can help children to avoid internalising a sense of failure, which can stop them from moving forward. If you are ultra-judgemental about your own mistakes and apologize profusely, or instead feel angrier and resentful, then this sends the message that mistakes are intolerable.” – Amber Hatch in Mindfulness for Parents

 

I hope this gives you some thoughts on how you can deal with anger calmly. I’m still re-learning my automatic reactions too but it gets better and better with time. If you have any comments or suggestions then I’d love to hear them.

 

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Book Review: Mindfulness For Parents by Amber Hatch

In ‘Mindfulness For Parents‘, Amber Hatch has created an ideal guide for those coming to mindfulness for the first time as parents. Her accessible style and gift for explaining mindfulness concepts simply and effectively make this a very compelling book. There are information and advice from the early weeks of having a baby to raising older children in a gentle and compassionate style as well as more practical advice on introducing mindfulness to children and maintaining your own practice.

 

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This book does an excellant job of demonstrating through examples and suggested exercises how to establish a mindfulness practice in the midst of raising a family. I would have loved to read this book when I was first learning to practice mindfulness as it was sometimes a struggle applying the theory I was learning to our busy family life.

 

  • How do you meditate when you don’t have time to yourself?
  • How do you stay calm and patient when you’re so tired you could fall asleep walking?
  • How do you step outside of the guilt and critical thoughts and create compassion and forgiveness for yourself?
  • How can you simply enjoy your children when they know exactly how to push your buttons?

This book answers all of these questions and more so you can find peace and joy in every day. I’d thoroughly recommend it to anyone who has not yet established their own mindfulness practice or is struggling to do so as a parent.

 
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Book Review: Only Love Today by Rachel Macy Stafford

I’ve been following Rachel’s blog The Hands Free Mama for a few years now and I’ve always adored her writing. It’s like the written equivalent of a hug from a friend. Her work is full of hope and inspiration for turning a bad day around without feeling sanctimonious or judgemental. I haven’t read any of her previous books so I was delighted to be given the chance to get a sneak preview of this one.

 

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I was somewhat surprised (and happy) to find that this isn’t a cover to cover read or a manual for mindful living. In the words of Rachel this is a “flip open, read-in-any-order book of daily encouragement designed to shift perspective and anchor us in love”. Each short passage of c. 2-3 pages tackles a specific theme and includes a short quote (great to write in a journal as a reminder), an encouraging passage based in experience and a suggested exercise for the day to help reinforce this shift in perspective. You could simply work your way through the book taking a passage each day, or you could just use the index to refer to relevant passages as and when needed.

 
On opening the book initially, the first passage I came to was exactly what I needed that day. After a 5am start with two small, tired people, I was feeling pretty grumpy and snappy. I hadn’t exactly been the model Mum thus far and I was feeling bad about it. The “Only Love Today Affirmation” really helped me let go of the regret and resentment and open up to all the possibilities yet to come that day.

 

 

 

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“Today I will choose love. If I mistakenly choose distraction, perfection or negativity over love, I will not wallow in regret. I will choose love next. I will choose love until it becomes my first response… my gut instinct… my natural reaction. I will choose love until it becomes who I am.
Let love start this day.
Let love end this day.
Let love transform the minutes in between.”

 
This book allows us to accept our human, imperfect selves, whilst still allowing us to grow and nurture those around us with increasing love and softness. I’d thoroughly recommend this book to anyone who loves someone. Loving ourselves and those we cherish with gentleness, empathy and compassion is probably something we all hope to do and yet still manage to stray away from some days. This is the perfect companion to help you get back on track.

 

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A meditation on fire, motherhood and renewal

My choice of practice to welcome the new year today was to meditate using fire as my focus. I love this practice for many reasons.

 

  • There’s the symbolic aspect of cleansing so appropriate for the New Year.
  • It’s a really tangible and natural anchor which is helpful when you’re sleepy (as I was today).
  • As I only have a fire pit outside, it’s a good excuse to be out in the open air.

 

The intention was simply to stay with my experience of watching the fire; noticing any thoughts, placing them into the fire and watching them disappear. A standard mindfulness of thoughts meditation. In fact you don’t need fire for this meditation, any anchor such as the breath or walking will enable you to put some space between you and your thoughts. Sometimes though, when you let go of all the thoughts keeping your mind busy, that’s when you get to the really good stuff. The insights or creativity that you struggle to connect with in everyday life.

 
The previous year has been quite challenging and I’ve wrestled with a lot of unsettling and difficult emotions. Mothering two small children fulltime has been all-consuming and at times overwhelming. I’ve mourned the loss of my identity and knowledge of who I am and what I’m good at. I know I’m not alone in this and there is some fascinating work being done in neuroscience that is identifying the actual changes to the brain when we become mothers and why these big shifts in emotional state occur. You can read more about it here. Whilst these changes to the brain may be necessary and ultimately positive for us, it doesn’t make it any easier to manage at the time. It’s difficult to notice and accept negative and difficult emotions when small children take up so much of our mental and physical space.

 
As I watched the fire I spent some time letting go of the usual stuff. Conversations I had that day, things I needed to do, some regular insecurities and worries etc. As I continued to watch  however, I noticed my thoughts being routinely pulled towards a sense of watching my old self be consumed by the fire and I decided to run with this train of thought for a moment. I realised that I’m not simply being consumed by the fire like wood or coal. Instead I am within the fire. Like metal, I am being returned to a molten state to be reborn with new purpose. More empathy, more love and less concern for what others think. I’m not lost, just changing and that makes me hopeful and excited for what is to come.

 
One of the greatest gifts mindfulness has given me is the ability to shift perspective from destructive to hopeful and I will be forever grateful. 2017 is looking good already.

 
“I no longer feared the darkness once I knew the phoenix in me would rise from the ashes.” William C. Hannan